“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” – Ephesians 2:4-5
In my personal experience, I know for a fact that actions have consequences. If my daughter doesn’t turn in her homework, for example, she will face some consequence for the fault. Now she may have good reasons for not doing her homework, or maybe the dog actually ate it this time, but the reality is that while she may receive forgiveness, the consequence for the wrong remains.
I remember counseling a couple where sin was committed. The offender asked forgiveness and it was ultimately granted, but it could not repair the breech of mistrust. The sin was forgiven, but the mistrust could not be forgotten.
Somewhere along the way, many of us were taught that forgiveness and mercy means we shouldn’t have to pay for the effects of our poor choices. I’m not really sure where this came from. Maybe our society let us get away with way too much. Maybe too many of our teachers said it was okay that we didn’t turn in our homework on time. Maybe too many preachers proclaimed mercy to exclude any kind of justice from God. But the scripture points to both God’s mercy and God’s justice.
Thomas Merton wrote, “The mercy of God does not suspend the laws of cause and effect. When God forgives me a sin, He destroys the guilt of sin but the effects and the punishment of sin remain. Yet it is precisely in punishing sin that God’s mercy most evidently identifies itself with His justice. Every sin is a violation of the love of God, and the justice of God makes it impossible for this violation to be perfectly repaired by anything but love.”
Mercy is a part of God’s nature, but scripture is replete with examples that God’s mercy does not do away with the consequences of our sin. Why? Because God’s justice makes it impossible to perfectly repair any violation outside of love. God’s justice makes love a necessity for reconciliation.
For those who have tried to repair their violations in ways outside of love, heartache is the typical result. Is it possible to thank God for God’s justice, knowing that it pushes us toward a greater need for love?
I thank God for God’s mercy AND justice. (Even if I do prefer the mercy.)